The past few months have seen a rapid escalation in cases of the novel coronavirus disease in the United States. The U.S.’ first case of the virus was reported in mid-January and since then, confirmed cases have skyrocketed to almost 400,000 with a death toll of close to 13,000. Much of the country has responded to the issue seriously, with many states issuing stay-at-home orders, mandating the closure of non-essential businesses, and providing its citizens with helpful facts and guidelines regarding the disease. Others, however, have not handled the situation so well. In particular, President Trump and his administration have faced immense backlash from the public regarding how they have handled the pandemic and the rhetoric they have used to describe the situation. Throughout his addresses of the crisis, President Trump has issued the use of the paranoid style of politics, particularly targeting China and its citizens.
In his book, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, historian Richard J.
Hofstadter describes the paranoid politics spokesman as someone who “sees the
hostile and conspiratorial world in which he feels himself to be living as directed
against a nation, a culture, a way of life whose fate affects not himself alone
but millions of others.”
It is a type of politics that ignites a mentality of “us against them,” with “us”
being the United States and the institutions we hold highly, and “them” being
an outside force threatening to undermine our way of life. In Trump’s handling
of the coronavirus situation, he has been using rhetoric that casts China as
the “them,” labeling them as a dangerous outside force that is to blame for the
debilitated condition of our country and its people. Despite the World Health
Organization officially naming the disease COVID-19, in many press conferences
and social media posts Trump has referred to the disease as “the Chinese virus.”
He first labeled the disease this way in a tweet posted on March 16th
saying, “The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like
Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus. We
will be stronger than ever before!”
In this particular tweet, he not only labels coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus”
but he also blames this newly ethnicized disease for crippling American
industries and diminishing the strength of the nation as a whole. This type of
behavior is not abnormal for President Trump who has run his presidency on a
platform of nationalism and “America first” policy stances. Instead of
accepting the reality of the health crisis in the U.S. and facing it head on,
he is using China as a scapegoat for the country’s newly arisen problem. This
is very reminiscent of sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild’s argument in her
book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger
and Mourning on the American Right, that Trump was able to rise to power in
part by reviling and expelling members of out-groups in order to bolster support
from those in the in-group.
Through his paranoid words, Trump has cast China, its citizens, and its
descendants as malicious outsiders who have attacked the United States,
creating an atmosphere of division and xenophobia.
 CDC. “Cases in U.S.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Apr. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html.
 Hofstadter, Richard J. 1964. The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Chapter 1.
 Trump, Donald J. Twitter, Twitter, 16 Mar. 2020, twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1239685852093169664.
 Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 2016. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. New York: The New Press. Chapter 15.
This is a really interesting way to look at the racism that has been such a problem with Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. His style of politics has always used in-groups and out-groups within the U.S., such as his supporters vs. the “radical left”, and with other countries, especially non-white majority countries. It makes sense that his go-to strategy for deflecting responsibility for the handling of coronavirus would be to distract with his typical dog-whistle racism. I think this kind of paranoid politics can also be seen in his insistence last month that the fears over the coronavirus were a plot by Democrats to make him look bad. He always sees those who disagree with him as enemies who are out to get him at all times, even in moments where the country desperately needs a strong leader.